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Study Offers Hope for Horses with Melanoma

The tumor starts like so many skin cancers do: a small black bump on the skin. It is easy to overlook, since it isn’t irritating, oozing or interfering with movement. Slowly, the tumor grows, but much of the growth occurs below the skin. Over time the tumor is noted but doesn’t seem a cause for concern; if it is growing so slowly, how could it be a problem? Then one day, doctors discover the tumor is much bigger than previously thought and has spread throughout the body.

Most people would recognize this tumor as a melanoma, one of the most common and deadly skin cancers in people. This particular scenario, however, takes place on the skin of a horse. For many years, horse owners and equine veterinarians thought melanomas on horses were benign growths causing few problems. These tumors are now recognized to be much more aggressive, and many horses die or are euthanized because of this type of cancer.

A study funded by Morris Animal Foundation offers hope for horses that suffer from this deadly skin cancer. Dr. Jeffrey Phillips, of Lincoln Memorial University, injected skin melanomas on horses with an anti-melanoma vaccine originally designed for use in dogs. He was able to show dramatic shrinkage of the skin tumors on all horses treated, and none of his patients experienced serious side effects. Dr. Phillips’ preliminary results have created a buzz in the horse community, and horses around the United States as well as worldwide are already benefitting from his findings.

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By Kelly Diehl, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM (Small Animal Medicine)

Categories: Animal health
July 18, 2014